Book Attitudes

Posted on July 11, 2010 by Brian Jaress
Tags: books, people

Recently, I mentioned to a friend that it’s very hard to find good literary books from the past century or so in DRM-free electronic form on the Internet, even though it’s easy to find other books from the same period and easy to find old classics. (She was reading something by Joyce Carol Oates.)

The old classics are at places like Project Gutenberg that avoid violating copyright law, so I think the real question is: Why do the ordinary Internet scofflaws not seem to care about literary merit?

A possible answer happened to land in my in-box a few days later as an op-ed forwarded by my mom:

What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom. . .

A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference.

When people ask on the Internet for book recommendations within a certain genre, you’ll sometimes see a consensus among the responses that they should read the good books last, so as not to spoil their enjoyment of the other books. I once tried to suggest just skipping the other books, and the suggestion fell flat.

It led to one of those discussions where people just can’t fathom each other. They tried to explain that if you could enjoy more books by reading them in a certain order, you should. I tried to explain that you shouldn’t recommend a book if you don’t think it’s actually a good book, and that there are enough good books to last your whole life.

We had to agree to disagree, or rather to stop talking about it and keep thinking the other side was nuts.